During each orientation at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, new hires participate in a milkshake toast. No, the treat does not provide a sugar rush that fuels the recruits through the rest of their training. Instead, the drink symbolizes the restaurant group’s philosophy of going above and beyond for people.
In the early days of the Columbus, Ohio-based company, CEO and founder Cameron Mitchell took his 5-year-old son out to dinner and ordered him something that wasn’t on the menu: a chocolate milkshake. The restaurant said they couldn’t make the dessert, even though they had all the ingredients and tools to get the job done. Persistent, Mitchell got his son that milkshake, and he came back to his executive team with a key value of the brand: “The answer is yes. What is your question?”
But it doesn’t just apply to guests. “If someone asks us to do something, and it’s in our purview to do it, we do it,” says Chuck Davis, vice president of human resources for CMR’s more than 4,000 employees, who the brand strictly refers to as associates. If employees need a day off to go see the Elton John farewell tour, for instance, managers will do what they can to make that happen, Davis says. The strategy seems to help keep employees around, with hourly turnover at around 57%. Here’s how the 16-concept restaurant group retains top talent.
1. Talk that talk
Cameron Mitchell Restaurants constantly gathers feedback from employees. To create a two-way discourse, the private company shares financial information with staff. Every quarter, general managers conduct cabinet meetings and spend most of the time listening, Davis says. In addition, Mitchell and the brand’s president hold roundtable meetings twice a year to share the state of the company. The restaurant group also surveys employees twice a year on the overall company and their direct managers. All of these communication channels help decisions get made quickly and the company keep up with the needs of its team members, he says.
2. Unfettered management
The restaurant group’s hourly turnover isn’t the only metric that's lower than the industry average. Management turnover is just 5.4%. Davis says promoting to fill at least 70% of its management needs internally helps keep management talent, and streamlined processes enable managers to be out on the floor instead of behind a pile of paperwork. For instance, the group just updated its HR software to automate some communication with employees, allow candidates to apply online and, eventually, move the company toward paperless onboarding.
3. Convene at every turn
In addition to exit interviews, the brand is officially launching stay interviews with managers this year. Davis’ team will ask if new leaders are getting the training they need and if they’re getting what they signed up for. These one-on-one meetings are important to keep a pulse on the different needs of staff members. “One thing is very clear to us, our associates are extremely diverse, and one size does not fit all when it comes to trying to understand different experiences,” he says.